Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Thoughts on the Arts and Subbing

I'm currently listening to an audio version of a biography called The Churchills: In Love and War (because, The Crown). So when I saw this meme*, I had to share. Churchill is on my mind, and the arts are dear to my heart. 

Since I've been substitute teaching in the public schools, I believe in the power of the arts more than ever. 

I've been in some very fine classrooms that I would be happy for my own kids to be part of. But I've also been in places that I would have to call an educational wasteland. I'm not going to lay out here what all I think is wrong with our educational system, but in our area, poverty is a huge contributing factor.  Kids who don't have basic needs met--for food, sleep, stability, and security, as well as love, care and parents in their lives--don't have brains that have bandwidth to learn long division or the French revolution.

But what they CAN absorb, I firmly believe, is music, art, theater and PE. (In my opinion, sports are a form of art as much as dance is.) And I believe it contributes far more to brain development and receptiveness than most would think.

One afternoon I was assigned to an elementary classroom for behavior-disordered students. There were only two students, and they were eating lunch in their own classroom.The teacher was letting them watch YouTube videos projected on the Promethean board. They were choosing animated movie trailers, but when I came back from the washroom, they were watching a clip from The Nutcracker ballet. The fifth grade girl was very excited. "We watched this in music class, the whole thing!"

She located the full-length version and was immediately engrossed in the wordless drama as it unfolded through acting and dance. Occasionally she would stand up and move around, mimicking the dancers' graceful or energetic movements.

Meanwhile the fourth grade boy in the class, who'd been having a rough morning--hitting and biting--got worked up and they ended up taking him home to grandma, who didn't have a car, so the teacher and aide drove him. I was left to watch The Nutcracker with the young lady, and it ended up that we watched for over an hour. 

It was remarkable that she was able to remain attentive and delighted with it for so long. It was evident that it really spoke to something deep inside her. When we did finally turn to her worksheets, she was cooperative and pleasant, and an incentive for finishing them quickly was that she was allowed to go join a kindergarten gym class as a helper. We finished out the day there--with her insisting that I hula-hoop alongside her, until it was clear that she was much better at it than me. Before she left, she hugged me and asked if I could please come back. 

Some days, she's allowed to go help in the library too. I was so happy for her that there are adults at that school that seemed to understand her, and I prayed that next year, in middle school, she'd receive the same kind of consideration. But what I've seen at the upper levels, more and more, is kids who are just killing time in the prison walls. The really motivated students have great academic opportunities, but for the unmotivated ones, or the low-functioning ones? They are completely disengaged and checked out, on their phones whenever possible and just waiting for the bell to release them.

In my opinion, they need alternative learning experiences which the public school just doesn't provide. They need to study topics of high interest or applicability. They need hands-on learning by doing. Certainly they have non-academic abilities that they are not developing, and therefore not gaining the confidence that could come from mastery and excelling in something. 

This fifth grade girl, it was clear to me, is a dancer or an athlete! Maybe a singer, too. If she were my project, I'd have her spending hours a day on dance and conditioning. We'd study history and literature by watching ballets and musicals. We'd compare and contrast them for critical thinking and writing. We'd read the stories they are based on. We'd study the human body. For math, we'd choreograph 8-counts and 32-counts; we'd contrast beats of a waltz, a march, and a tango; we'd figure out costs of dance lessons and ballet shoes. I wouldn't sweat it if she didn't learn algebra or chemistry. 

In case she were not able to make it as a professional dancer, I'd help her explore pathways for becoming a choreographer, or a dance instructor, or at least be equipped to work in a retail dance store. I'd also have her learn to cook, budget, shop the sales and the thrift stores, and use a sewing machine to alter a costume. 

It would be a great if she could get all this in a fine arts school, but it also sounds a bit like homeschooling, eh? One thing I have come to appreciate is how even on a bad day of homeschooling, my kids had access to all kinds of enriching activities that they were motivated to engage in, even if they weren't academic ones. After they finished a worksheet, they weren't just killing time in a cinder-block classroom.

Has it made me re-think my decision to have my two youngest in public school? I'm always open to returning to it...but for now, I'm thankful that I can work. B11 is in an excellent program in an enriching environment, and he's an extrovert who loves the classroom setting. Chicklet14's school is more of a mixed bag, but she has many fine teachers that she loves, and she is highly motivated to spend her free time reading. That's an activity we filled our homeschooling days with, so I feel pretty good about her. As we have always done, we'll take it year by year!

As an aside, I am shocked at the lack of books and reading materials in high school classrooms. If students finish work early, there is no expectation that they read; they are allowed to get on their phones. If I were a high school principal who wanted to raise test scores, I'd require books and magazines in every classroom, including coffee table books of art and photography, graphic novels, and even comic books for kids who "hate" reading. (It's all available cheap at garage sales and thrift stores, and book lovers would donate.) It's called a "print-rich environment" and again--the arts. Literature, story...it's art. I also would prescribe read-aloud time to be part of every elementary and middle school day. As a sub, when reading aloud been part of the lesson plan, I've seen incredible engagement from kids who did not tune in to other lessons.

My heart aches for kids I see who hate school, hate reading, and have not had extended exposure to the arts. Conversely, I see how life-giving the arts are for the kids who are involved in choir, theater, and dance in our high schools, and I know that sports and the visual arts are lifelines for others. I would love to see the arts, and movement generally, a bigger part of education, including bringing recess back to the elementary schools. Like the arts, recess primes brains for learning!

Stepping off my soapbox now...I've been much more long-winded than I intended. I do apologize if I sound as if my ideas are superior; please recognize this post is largely reaction and contrast, rather than proscription for educational change. I am truly humbled by those who are in these challenging classrooms every day! I've sat on this post for awhile, but feel it's time to stop overthinking. So, with apologies, these are a few thoughts...inspired by Winston Churchill! 

*So as I am about to publish, I discover that he never really said it. Disappointing....especially after using the quote as a springboard for my whole post. But I stand by the thoughts it inspired!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Hamilton: Parody, Pastiche, Satire, Spoof!

So I've been teaching a comedy class for teenagers, and I'm writing my own curriculum as I go. This week, we covered parody, satire, spoofs, and a less well-known but very similar genre, pastiche.

To help the class understand the distinctions--(the general public does not, by the way, and often uses parody, satire and spoof interchangeably)--I showed them videos which all had the same starting point: the hit musical Hamilton.

It was a pretty good lesson, so just for grins--and while all the links still work--I thought I'd post it here!

We'll start with the original work, for those who don't know it--the opening number of Hamilton. There are no really good recordings available, but here's the best we have:

Notice the song is dramatic, intense, and full of words. Others will imitate and poke fun at these qualities.

First, we'll view a parody--an imitation that pokes gentle fun at the original. One minute is enough to get the idea, if you're pressed for time:

In this case, it's a parody of both Hamilton AND Harry Potter! We can tell it's supposed to be funny, because of the bad wigs and costumes, for starters.

Next, let's view something very similar, and yet quite different. Though this performance is also a humorous imitation of the Hamilton opening number, it is meant to be taken seriously. The production values are much higher than the parody we just watched, and it is an excellent performance in its own right. When an imitation is more of a tribute, or is created in imitative admiration of the original work, it's called a pastiche.

Now, let's look at a Hamilton satire. A satire is supposed to be funny, but it also makes a point, usually a political, societal or cultural critique. (Two minutes or so is enough to get the idea....)

While the idea of Hamilton performed with an all-white cast is quite funny, their point about "reverse racism" is social commentary.

Finally, a spoof is so similar to parody that it's even considered a sub-type of parody, but the main distinguishing features are that spoofs are often meant to make fun of not just one work, but a whole body of work, and they are often not as true to the original material as a parody.

The following video imitates Hamilton but it's really a spoof about high school musicals in general. It also spoofs the documentary genre. The Hamilton imitations are performed poorly, on purpose, and are not very true to the original material.

Hopefully you now clearly understand the distinctions between a parody, a pastiche, a satire, and a spoof!

I'll throw one more out, for free. A farce--while also a comedic genre and sometimes used synonymously with satire and parody--doesn't really belong in this group because it is not imitative by definition. A farce is a highly improbable, exaggerated comedic situation, with a plot that spirals further and further out of control. But it's an original work, not an imitation of another work. Even if it does imitate a comedic situation, it's not a key source of the humor. Arsenic and Old Lace, Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry, and Weekend at Bernie's are all movies about a corpse--or more than one corpse--with characters trapped in the situation, trying to figure out what to do about it/them. All three are farces in their own right; you can enjoy any one of them without reference to the other.

And last, NOT for free--Hamilton tickets! Chicklet and I are YUGE fans and really hope to see it before it leaves Chicago. We are saving our pennies, but we'll accept contributions of any amount. :)

Hopefully it's here for a long time!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Couple Number Two

I guess you could call it a whirlwind romance. A year ago, they hadn't even met!

But by June, they were engaged.

(Wait, what?? Even as I write that, I question it!) 

How did that even happen?

I'll back up a bit, to November or December of 2015. B21 (or B20, as he was then) and I were having one of those cautious conversations about life and his future. I was fishing for information about a new girl he was interested in--who didn't sound like daughter-in-law material--and as he tried to avoid telling me more, I said, "If you don't want to tell me about her, then believe me, she's not the right girl. When you meet the right girl, you'll feel like you can't wait for me to meet her!"

Fast-forward to February and another conversation about his future. We had been discussing steps toward college, a job change, maybe even a move...and he says, "Well, but now there is this girl." Soon, he brings her by.

Let me preface that story by saying that B21 has had a tendency, over the years, to play knight in shining armor to young ladies who needed rescuing. We usually saw red flags in a first meeting. To our surprise and delight, this gal (oh dear, I don't have a pseudonym yet!), struck us at once as superbly healthy. She was confident, poised, open, friendly and NICE. She seemed totally comfortable with us and with herself. What's more, B21 was different in her presence. He was relaxed and light-hearted. He was enjoying being with us, with her. He was in no hurry to rush off with her. 

After they left, we all agreed she was a keeper. Chicklet astutely observed, "I really like her; and I really like B21 when he's with her!"

That night, I waited up for him so I could tell him how much I approved. Later, he said that was a turning point for him. He began taking her to meet all the significant people in his life. It was just as I'd predicted:  He couldn't wait to introduce her to everyone he cared about!

Everyone gave him green lights to move forward.

Interestingly, in a way she was in need of rescuing. I remember when B21 told us with trepidation, before we met her, that she was only 17, and she had a son, not quite 2. He was surprised when each of us, separately, instead of cautioning him against getting serious with her, told him that although it would add some challenges, we didn't think it was an insurmountable problem. In fact, we thought it said good things about her courage, her convictions and her maturity.

He said he liked her from the start--they were both employed at Starbucks, though not at the same store--and when he heard that she had a child, he thought, "Wow,  it's going to take a special guy to come along and step into that situation." As he got to know her, he remembers thinking, "Why can't I be that guy?"

Given her youth, it's ironic that he was most attracted to her maturity! He was also strongly impressed by what a good mother she was. B21 has always loved kids and looked forward to being a father, and it was important to him to marry someone who also wanted a family and would be a good mom. He loved how she didn't take herself too seriously and frequently laughed at herself; he was also thrilled that she could cook, and she was organized. "She's a lot like you, Mom," he said, and I nearly cried.

He was done with casual dating, and he told her he was only interested in a serious relationship. She wasn't eager for him to form a relationship with her son unless he was going to be around permanently. He told her he was going to follow the Lord and that was the most important thing in his life. She said that was the path she was traveling too, and she was eager to journey with him.

As parents, we all thought that though they were young, they were mature, and they were well-suited to each other. They had an easy, complementary relationship, and they slipped into co-parenting as if they'd been doing it for years.

With all that settled, the only question, really, was timing! They lived about 45 minutes apart, on opposite sides of Kenosha county. Between driving to see each other, to go to work, and to drop off and pick up her son (who she shares in a joint custody arrangement), they were spending so much in gas and time that neither could afford, especially with both of them planning to start college in the fall: How could they add wedding planning on top of that, if they aimed for the following summer? It seemed their grades would be most likely to suffer.

Perhaps they should just get married first? We felt it made the most sense. Afraid we were not objective, I asked a psychologist friend, who knew them both, if there were any reasons to consider having them wait longer to get married:  She said absolutely not! So, with that reassurance, and with Blondechick and Jedi Knight planning an August wedding, October sounded about right. After their June 4 engagement, they had a little over four months to plan--plenty of time. :)

She said she would have dressed up more if she had seen it coming. She was totally taken by surprise!

He proposed atop a Kenosha landmark on an unusually foggy evening. 
But first, in mid-June, she had to graduate! For her last two years of high school, she completed her coursework though eAchieve Academy, the same virtual school that B21 and his younger brother had attended several years before. 

May was a big month for the three of them too, as they all had milestone birthdays. He turned 21, she turned 18, and their little boy turned 2.

Running out of room for the rest of the story...but they are married now. (I will do a post of wedding pictures soon!) They're cozy in their own apartment. They bring their laundry over to our house, and we watch our step-grandson occasionally when their work schedules overlap--so we see them quite frequently! They attend Light of Christ on Sundays too.

We couldn't be more thankful to God for our new daughter-in-law!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy Eleven Years of Blogging to Me

After an extremely eventful 2016, it's nice to have nothing going on, really, on New Year's Eve!

It was on a very similar NYE eleven years ago that I decided a new year was a good time to start a new project, and I wrote my first blog post. Without going back and looking, I'm pretty sure it was a short review of the movie we'd watched the night before, Cheaper By the Dozen.

Yesterday, I had reason to go searching back through my blog's archive for significant dates in the life of our church. We are about to celebrate our 10-year anniversary in mid-January, and our communications staff person is putting together a list of milestones in our church history.

As I scrolled through old posts, I was amazed at how much I captured and how much I used to write! So many details were recorded here, including things I had completely forgotten.

I am so thankful to have it, and I wish I'd been able to keep it up better in recent years. I used to stay up after the kids were in bed, especially when Papa Rooster was traveling; these days I just don't get the second wind I used to get, the kids are all still up, and PR deserves more of my attention than he usually gets in the evenings. I just can't add blogging at night to the mix anymore. The days are over-full, and I've never been a morning person.

Still I keep hoping to make more time for it! So I don't let it go completely. Maybe in 2017....

Feel free to wish me a Happy Blog-iversary in the comments. And Happy New Year to all my readers!

Books Read in 2016, Annotated

I know my posts have slowed waaaaayyyy down this year, but I can't skip my annual list! Though I haven't much time for reading, every year I am amazed by how much I get through by reading just 10-15 minutes a night (I like to send my brain on vacation just before I fall sleep), and by using time in the car (shout out to Audiobooks!). I also did a lot of listening while doing house projects like stripping wallpaper and varnish.

This year, I break down my list into those two categories.

Hard Copies (non-audio):

Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)
This one has been on my mental list for years, ever since Pilot Brother, who isn't a huge reader of long books, told me it was really good. "It's like a soap opera," he said. I didn't think it was quite that accessible, but I did enjoy it, as Russian tragedies go. I finished it, which I can't say for War and Peace, and I've never attempted more than excerpts from The Brothers Karamazov. (Somehow I graduated from Wheaton College without reading it, which is quite a feat! One day, I will. :)

The Heaven Tree
The Green Branch
The Scarlet Seed
(Edith Pargeter's The Heaven Tree Trilogy)
Better known as Ellis Peters, the author of the Brother Cadfael mysteries, Edith Pargeter writes historical fiction set in medieval England and Wales. This trilogy is truly her masterpiece, a tragedy full of heartbreaking beauty, redemption, and some of the most memorable characters and places I've ever encountered. I even bought an extra copy of this book for friends to borrow!

Just One Look (Harlan Coben)
Pulp fiction that I didn't have to concentrate on too much, perfect for reading in snatches backstage during productions of summer Shakespeare in which I was performing.

Hamilton, the Revolution (Lin Manuel-Miranda and Jeremy McCarter)
My niece had this coffee table book at the farm this summer, and I just had to buy it as a gift for myself to read while recuperating from surgery in August. It has the complete libretto from the Broadway musical, plus sidenotes explaining word choices, including historical details they reference, and evolution of the script into its final form. The rest of the book was about the creative process and the collaboration that produced the smash hit (which I think is brilliant on so many levels). I'll return to this book when I need creative inspiration!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (J.K. Rowling)
Couldn't wait to read it, but it was disappointing. The script/screenplay format seemed just a skeleton of a story. It might make a good movie, but it seemed thin even for that. :(

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran Foer)
This aftermath-of-9/11 story was creatively told, with various chapters written in first person from different characters' perspectives. You had to read closely to figure out whose viewpoint you were in. I can see why it's assigned reading at the high school level; however, there is some mature material and a lot of language. Many sad and lovely moments.

The Merchant's Partner
(Michael Jecks)
I enjoyed this medieval-era mystery. But I can't think of much else to say about it.

A Fatal Grace
The Long Way Home
Still Life
(Louise Penny)
That's the order in which I read these, but make sure YOU read these in order! After the first one, I realized that besides the mystery at hand, there was a narrative that spanned more than the one book I was reading, turning these books into something more than a mystery series. Set in Canada, it took me awhile to "warm up" to the wintry descriptions of the culture in Three Pines, a quaint Quebecois village stocked with non-stock characters, but there is a thoughtful, artistic quality to these books that I appreciate.

The War Against Miss Winter
The Winter of our Discontent
Winter in June
(Kathryn Miller Haines)
After discovering there were only two books in The Girl is Murder series (see below), I quickly went in search of other books by this author! This sleuth is a spunky, wise-cracking actress in NYC during WW2. Both series are delightfully full of war-era details and slang, peopled with mobsters, private eyes, GI's, flirty girls, and temperamental actors and directors. These books probably are considered YA, but they are so colorful, anyone would enjoy them.

Farewell to Manzanar (Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston)
A completely different look at WW2, this book is an engaging memoir of growing up in a Japanese internment camp in CA. 


(Veronica Roth)
I can see why this series was so popular! Now I need to watch the movies.

Henry Huggins (Beverly Cleary)
I remember enjoying this book as a kid, so I listened to it with the two youngest kids, on our trips back and forth to Milwaukee while I was directing the musical Tom Sawyer. We all enjoyed the simple problems Henry and his new dog Ribsy faced in each chapter. A preface by the author explained how it came to be; I didn't realize it was the popular author's very first book!

Peter Pan (J. M. Barrie)
I love the delightful turns of phrase in this classic children's story.

Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen)
It was time to revisit this one, which I own. So thankful that I have a tape player in my 2002 Prius!

The City (Dean Koontz)
This was a beautiful story to read while race was a hot issue in the news--or any time. A story of music and childhood, told as a reminiscence into a tape recorder by an old man, a jazz pianist and child prodigy. A little bit of magical realism, a little bit of sleuthing, with tender portraits of people. I liked it very much. (I couldn't recall the author, and having just discovered who it is, I am shocked! This is not one of his typical action-packed page-turners.)

The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls)
Wow, this one was good!! Probably my pick of the bunch, if you are looking for a recommendation. This is an autobiography of growing up in a highly dysfunctional family, where kids were encouraged to be independent to the point of being totally neglected by their alcoholic father and self-absorbed mother. Just writing that sentence makes me wonder who would want to read this? But the author's tone is what's so incredible--she was able to receive the good that her parents offered, without whining about what they didn't provide. Her clear, objective storytelling even draws humor out of their situation at times. Her story should be encouraging to parents everywhere, not just because we look so good by comparison, but it makes one appreciate how much kids are capable of on their own. It's validating to Montessori, unschooler, free-range parent types, and it's reassuring to the helicopter, hand-holding tendencies that so many of us fight. Surprisingly, 4 out of 5 of the siblings ended up as remarkably healthy adults; the one really dysfunctional child lived mostly with Christian neighbors who took her in. It supports the consistent research that being raised by two biological parents results in the best outcomes for kids. Again, this should be encouraging to those who've managed to stay married, if we've done nothing else for our kids. It's easy to underestimate what a gift that is to our children!

A Tale of Two Castles (Gail Carson Levine)
Another enjoyable tale by this excellent children's author.

Claim to Fame (Margaret Peterson Haddix)
Interesting premise to this YA novel about a former child star who develops the ability to hear what people think about her, any time she leaves the walls of the home her father found for her before he died.

Rumpole Misbehaves (John Mortimer)
British husband humor at its best. Rumpole is a wig-wearing barrister who refers to his wife as She Who Must Be Obeyed. In this episode, he pursues the position of QC (Queen's Council) while his wife decides to study for the bar exam and become a barrister herself.

The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins)
Like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, this story was also creatively told from a variety of perspectives. I enjoyed the audiobook, which had a different reader for each of the characters. It was a mystery, ultimately, that unfolded indirectly and surprisingly.

Joyland (Stephen King)
I had never read a Stephen King novel, but years ago my Professor Brother had recommended him. This one had more language than I like in an audiobook with kids around, but it was a well-crafted, suspenseful tale set in a creepy carnival. It screams "screenplay" to me; I'm surprised there hasn't been a movie?

The Colorado Kid (Stephen King)
No language in this one, except for the thick Maine dialect this engaging short story required. Not a satisfying ending; it's basically the tale of an unsolved mystery that remains one.

The Fault in Our Stars (John Green)
I haven't seen the movie, but the book was so good, I understand its popularity. Really touching.

Velocity (Dean Koontz)
A suspense thriller more typical of the author than The City. A bit too psycho and disturbing for my taste, but well-done.

The Girl is Murder
The Girl is Trouble
(Kathryn Miller Haines)
I wasn't far into the first one before I knew I'd found a winner! Chicklet14 quickly got hooked as well. See summary (above) of the Rosie Winter series, which isn't available on audio, unfortunately. This fine reader really brought them to life.

If I Ever Get Out of Here (Eric L. Gansworth)
This YA novel would be good for a study of contemporary Native American life and issues; although it's set in the 70's, I would bet that prejudice near reservations hasn't changed much. It was a pretty good story, but took a little too long to get there. Lovers of 70's rock music might also enjoy; each chapter title (like the book title) is a Beatles' song.

Taken at the Flood
Endless Night
Evil Under the Sun
(Agatha Christie)
Ah, Agatha. So reliably enjoyable and well-written! Chicklet14 is still a fan as well, especially of Poirot novels read by Hugh Fraser, which we're running out of, sadly. The above titles are all Poirot, but only the first one is by our favorite reader.

For more year-end book lists and reviews, visit Semicolon's annual round-up!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

New Season

I'm waaaay behind, but life is racing by so fast I can't keep up!

I need to write a post about Couple Number Two...plus we had two weddings...and it's time to write my annual book list post! 

I miss blogging, but it seems it's not the season.

Remember awhile back when I stopped homeschooling and put the two youngest in school? At the time, I clearly heard God say, "I have other things for you to do." That first year, God unexpectedly gave me an opportunity I had hardly dare dream of--to be lead director for a musical, with the theater ministry we've been involved with for over a decade. I ended up directing two musicals last year, and it was a huge learning curve. I loved it. 

I was having so much fun that I even questioned if this was really how God wanted me spending my time! Again, a clear answer came:  "I opened these doors for you; of course I want you to walk through them!" So I walked, with joy. Though it's non-traditional ministry, I believe strongly in what we offer--a place where Christian youth (and sometimes their non-Christian friends) find a community, encouragement in their faith, engagement in a purpose, and training in skills they will use and enjoy for a lifetime: singing, public speaking, improv, and more.

Then two of our adult children got engaged, and I had to focus on two new productions--weddings in August and October! Both were successful (they're married!) and equally lovely. (A post WILL follow, eventually, I promise.) In between, I had a hernia repair surgery, just for a change of pace. I also began teaching junior high Sunday School; Papa Rooster and I started leading the youth group; and I was assistant director for the fall musical.

Meanwhile, after Wedding #1, we got news that took some time to process:  Papa Rooster's corporate job was ending September 1. And it had been providing over 50% of our monthly income.

Now, Light of Christ is paying us as much as they can, but we are still a small church with a perpetual problem:  It seems that every time we get a new couple or family, a current one moves away, or some breadwinner loses a job. Our operating budget has been consistently pretty tight, though as a congregation we are growing in many ways.

We all want Father Rooster to be a full-time pastor to our church, not out looking for another job to add to his plate. It seemed clear to me that this was one of the "other things for you to do" that God had told me about. I knew it was time for me to go back to work. (Directing is fun and worthwhile, but not lucrative.)

The logical thing for me to do--it pays very well, per hour, and is extremely flexible--is to be a substitute teacher in the public schools. Especially since I have an Elementary Education degree (and an IL teaching certificate, albeit lapsed). It took two months from applying to actually working, but since mid-November, I've been subbing at least 20 hours a week. (A post WILL follow...eventually!)

This fall I've also spent far more hours than I care to tally scrambling to figure out health insurance and car insurance (separate problem, but needing to take the two married kids off, plus two accidents this past summer, means we've had to re-do everything), creating a new budget, checking to see what government programs we qualify for, canceling and tightening up on whatever bills we can, etc. 

It's a new season.

But God has new and good things in store for us in it; I can see just a few glimmers on the horizon! It reminds me again of what I've always told my kids:  If you follow God, it's always an adventure. You never quite know where He's leading. Like any good father taking his child on an adventure trip, he may plan something that will stretch you, but He wants to surprise and delight you too. As our newlyweds start off on their journeys, we find ourselves on a new one too. Yet it's familiar. Though we can't see round the bend, we've been on this road before, with God. It should be a good trip!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Couple Number One

As promised, a post about Blondechick and her young man! 

But what do I call him??

Sometimes I think I'll dispense with the pseudonyms altogether, as I realize how simple it would be to figure out our "true identities." However, using our actual names seems too personal to put out there for all the world to see.

I will call him Jedi Knight.

It's tricky to share their story, as it's not really mine to tell--so I'll tell my own. Our daughter was in a prodigal phase of her young life. She had come back to the Lord for awhile, but had begun to drift away again...until she met Jedi Knight. About a year before that, I had started praying for a specific type of husband for her, for a man who was not just attracted to her outer beauty--there were plenty of those--but one who was called by God to love and care for her inner soul. I knew he'd have to have much grace and forgiveness; in fact, I prayed specifically for a Hosea for her. If you know the Old Testament story, you remember that Hosea was told by God to marry a promiscuous woman. It was a tall order for a godly young man to fill.

God spoke to Jedi Knight about Blondechick through a dream before they even met--at a New Year's Eve party 1.5 years ago--and He confirmed it with another dream about asking a man if he could marry his daughter. When Jedi Knight saw a picture of Papa Rooster, he recognized him as the man in his dream! Also, Blondechick remembered reading Francine Rivers' Redeeming Love, based on the Hosea/Gomer story, and told me she and Jedi Knight had discussed the similarities in their story. I waited a few months before I told her of my specific prayers for a Hosea--I didn't want to unduly influence their early relationship--but as their intentions deepened, it was a joy to share with her the way that God had answered that prayer!

Jedi Knight is a young man of strength and conviction, solid in his faith and submission to God, with a deep love for Blondechick that has not wavered even in trial and testing. He's a manager at a Walgreen's; he's also an excellent drummer and a die-hard Star Wars fan. His parents live in Kenosha and are warm, delightful people to be related to. They are committed Christians, and they will be flexible in-laws to coordinate holidays with, we've already discovered!

Several months ago Blondechick left her stable but undemanding job as a receptionist at a law office to take a more challenging job as a pharmacy tech. The 10-hour shifts and unpredictable schedule, coupled with the stress of wedding planning and related financial stresses, plus a move (into the apartment she and Jedi Knight will share soon), triggered serious anxiety, insomnia, and difficulty eating. Jedi Knight has been a steady rock through it all! She recently switched to a waitressing job with a more manageable schedule, and she's doing much better. It's hard to watch your kids struggle, but so good when they learn and grow from adversity, just as we did.

In less than two weeks, they'll be Mr. and Mrs. Jedi Knight, and we'll have 5 sons. It's funny--I thought our family would shrink as our kids grew up and moved out. Instead, with fiances and fiancees and their parents, all local, our family is growing exponentially! 

God is so good.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Midsummer Update

So it seems my blog posts are getting further and further apart...which saddens me but reflects the season of life we're in! It's been two years since we moved into our God-selected house, and those two years have been so full that we still haven't completely unpacked, hung pictures, or stripped the wallpaper I was sure we'd get rid of right away. So much has happened with our kids, our church, and for me and Papa Rooster. So busy, but so good!!

The biggest news is with our kids. In my last post, I hinted that B21 may have met THE girl. I can't believe I had the confidence to post that, but we loved her the first time we met her, and it was clear that B21 was smitten too. It wasn't long before we were talking about them getting married...and skipping to the end of the story, we now have Blondechick's wedding August 7, and B21's will be October 16!

I promise that I will write a post about these two new additions to our family--and post pictures!--but for now, praise God with me that these two adult children, who have both gone through scary prodigal phases, are marrying solid Christ-followers. When I think of the futures I have imagined and feared for these two (and for us), I have to keep pinching myself and praising God for his work in their lives! So completely God's hand. And such incredible human beings to add to our family! I am overwhelmed with God's goodness.

In other news...Tom Sawyer, the show I directed in Milwaukee in the spring, was a great success. We had two extremely talented brothers as Tom and Huck, and a super-strong supporting cast. It was a blast directing two times in Milwaukee last year and getting to know all the wonderful families there. For next year, though, I've requested to stay in Kenosha because it is B17's senior year, and it was so hard having him doing Godspell in Kenosha while Chicklet13, B11 and I were in Milwaukee doing Tom Sawyer, especially since our public performances were at the exact same times. Fortunately our school day shows were at different times, so we got to see him play Judas one time--and it was the most powerful portrayal of Judas I've ever seen. He also sounded amazing starting out the show as John the Baptist, singing "Prepare Ye." I was sad to only see it once, and the siblings really missed being in a show together.

In Tom Sawyer, Chicklet played Amy Lawrence, Tom's previous girlfriend. As Tom tells Becky, "she's so darn perky, it could make you throw up"--and Chicklet had a lot of fun playing up the "perky" part, skipping and bouncing across stage, flashing her smile about and tossing her long curls in the boys' faces. B11 was one of the Tom's Gang Wannabes, who tagged along after the big boys and reprised one of their dances. As is true of B11 no matter where he is, he had great energy onstage!

Chicklet's first year in public middle school was an accomplishment--straight A's, a citizenship award, and two-time Student of the Month. (It's refreshing to have a child who actually cares about grades!) She's chosen to return to the same school for 8th grade next year.

We attended our first-ever fifth-grade graduation ceremony, filled with thankfulness for the great experience B11 has had in elementary school, with the same wonderful teacher both years. He's done so well, also with good grades, a Kiwanic Terrific Kid award and a citizenship award. For 6th grade, rather than going to the local school that Chicklet attends, he'll be going to a charter school with smaller class sizes, more of an elementary school feel (it's K-8) and a charter for learning that is hands-on, cooperative and quite challenging. 

Do I miss homeschooling? I'm often asked. I was too busy directing two shows last year to miss it at all; this year I won't be lead-directing any shows, so maybe I'll feel it more, but I also feel like these two youngest kids are where they are supposed to be for now. They are both thriving, and for Chicklet, being in public school has strengthened her faith and quickened a strong compassion for others. I don't think our older kids would have done well going to public school for middle school (B17 went for part of 7th grade and hated it), but for her, it's been the right thing. But as always, we take it year by year, child by child!

In June, Chicklet attended Project Dance camp with her Kenosha team, the culmination of two semesters of classes. It was an intense week of dancing for hours on end. She learned so much, made lots of new friends and loved her first overnight camp experience, staying in a dorm and eating in the dining hall. After she returned, she told me she can't wait to go to college. "Don't feel bad," she said, glowing, "but I can't wait to be independent. And I ate healthy every meal, Mom!" I'm proud and pleased, but sad to see her growing up so fast!

B17 had the honor of going to the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska, for a week; his high school's production of Dogfight was one of only 11 high schools selected to perform there. It was quite an experience for him! A few weekends later, his improv team competed in the Improvapalooza, an all-day improv competition. They didn't repeat last year's first-place victory, but it was still a fun day of great improv, and B17 enjoyed renewing friendships from previous years and from previous summer camps. 

B17 started visiting colleges last year, took the ACT twice, and will begin applying for college and scholarships this summer. Hard to believe his senior year is already looming! He's working, taking voice lessons, and continues to write songs--he sings and accompanies himself on the piano.

In addition to working as a shift supervisor at Starbucks, B21 continues his singer/songwriter career, with a regular gig playing on Sunday nights at a popular local restaurant. He recently won an online contest, garnering the most "likes" on a video of himself playing guitar and singing one of his own compositions, which will now be professionally recorded by the studio sponsoring the competition.

B25 works 10-15 hours a week stocking shelves; he also helps with chores, runs errands and plays chauffeur for his younger siblings, which is such a blessing! He also updates the church website by uploading new sermons each week.

Blondechick23 has moved into an apartment, where her fiance will join her once they are married, and she's enjoying unpacking her shower gifts, decorating, and wedding planning. She's recently gone back to waitressing, at a local establishment not far from their apartment.

B21 also just moved into an apartment very close to his workplace, where he's batching it until his wedding; he and his wife will start taking college classes in January, while they continue to work.

Since he moved out, B11 moved in to his old bedroom with B17 so that Chicklet13 could finally have her own room. With two kids out of the house, you'd think our schedule would be simpler, but with two engagements, we've added two more people to the family, plus their parents, who we are delighted to be getting to know--so the net effect is surprisingly more people, not less!

Father Rooster continues to work one day a week for his company, but the rest of his week for the church. Light of Christ continues to be a remarkable place of "love, hope and healing," as our mission statement puts it. Most recently, we started an Alpha group, which is for folks who want to learn more about Christianity, and it's been well-attended. We've also added a service on Sunday nights, once a month through the summer, called Oasis, for spiritual renewal and refreshment. Through the summer, I'm meeting four times with the middle schoolers (B11 and C13 included) for Bible study and a summer activity (the beach, the pool). We did the same thing last summer and it was a hit.

Finally, I enjoyed summer Shakespeare so much last year that I talked Chicklet13 into joining me this summer, and Papa Rooster said he'd do it too, if his dad would. (It has been great having my father-in-law living just blocks away from us! He moved to Kenosha last summer.) So all 4 of us are doing community theater together currently. We are performing abridged versions of Romeo and Juliet and As You Like It. Papa Rooster has the biggest part, playing Lord Capulet in R&J; his dad has the next biggest part, playing Adam, the faithful old servant, in AYLI. They are both amazing actors! I'm in both, with two small parts--Lady Montague in R&J, and Corin, the shepherd, in AYLI. Chicklet is playing Petra (Peter), plus another another Servant in R&J. She was also asked to understudy the lead character of Rosalind in AYLI, an honor that she hopes she won't actually have to perform.

That's more than enough for now! But now we're mostly caught up...so I can write about these engagements next time!

Wednesday, March 09, 2016


I'm going to try for a quick post, late at night. Bed is calling!

But my heart is full of thankfulness for all the good things happening in our church and in our family.

Father Rooster and I had a wonderful time last week at the annual Clergy/Spouse Retreat with so many friends and leaders from the Upper Midwest Diocese. We've been doing ministry with some of them for decades! So good to be part of such a group of dynamic and humble leaders.

It was especially good to catch up with two other priests' wives, old friends, who like me, are also in charge of creating and directing the salvation history readings at their churches' Easter Vigils! All these years and I didn't realize they also carried this particular creative and administrative burden. We commiserated on the challenges, swapped stories of awkward failures, and gave each other some tried-and-true ideas. It was wonderful.

I'm so thankful to have some teens--new families at Light of Christ--who have never been to a Vigil, but they're willing to act, dance and even create a soundtrack and choreography! Thanks to them, we are going to have some really cool readings this year, including a human video Creation reading, and when our Dry Bones come to life, they'll be dancing in hip-hop and African styles. I still have to nail down what we're doing for a couple of the other readings, but I'm pumped about those two!

I am also prepping for audition weekend, coming up on Friday, for another musical I'm directing for Spotlight Youth Theater. It's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the Broadway show, and I'm super-excited. Although it's a bit much, right now, to be thinking about Easter Vigil with one half of my brain and Tom with the other--not leaving much room for normal life! But I was so happy to be asked to direct again!

My kids are busy preparing for audition weekend also--only they are auditioning for different shows! B17 is going to be in Godspell, the show that Spotlight Kenosha is doing. Chicklet13 and B11 are going north with me to audition for Tom Sawyer in our sister county of Spotlight Milwaukee, where I directed Tall Tales in the fall. I love hearing them all practicing and singing for each other. They make me so proud!

Wedding preparations are simmering along, too. We have ceremony and reception venues reserved, we have the dress, and I believe we have cupcakes. Blondechick is working on a Save the Date announcement--it's quite humorous!--and one of her bridesmaids is already organizing a bridal shower. One of our next priorities is to get her shoes, so we can have the dress length altered. And the list will go on and on till August 7!

(Oh. My. Goodness. I just realized I never posted anything here about Blondechick's young man, let alone her engagement...which was over the holidays. Hmm. Must write a post! He's an answer to prayer!)

And in other news, B20 has met a girl, maybe THE girl, and we would be happy if it were. He's in an especially good mood these days, and it's contagious. The beautiful weather we've had for a couple of days now doesn't hurt either.

Tomorrow will be filled with appointments...and rain. But today--I am thankful!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Lessons Learned in Ten Years of Blogging

I just opened up my blog page and read the quotes at the top of my sidebar, about spiritual growth occurring at the pace of a hen when you are a married person (and a mother)...and the second one about learning at the pace of walking, at the speed of life.

What have I learned in the ten years I've been keeping this blog? It was my tenth blog-i-versary on New Year's Eve!

I should probably go back and re-publish some of my original posts on why I chose the title and those quotes. But ten years ago, I was a homeschooling mom of six, age 15 and under. The days were very full of the mundane--changing diapers, nursing, explaining math problems, reading aloud, doing laundry, and every time I turned around someone was hungry...again! There was very little time for anything that seemed of eternal significance--unless I embraced it ALL as having eternal value. This blog helped me do that, recording the memories with a thankful, joyful heart, and tracing God's hand as He provided and directed along the way. 

As more of our kids entered their teenage years and when we moved away from an established network of Christian families and friends, there were years where a lot happened that was too painful to share...but oh, how God was working through those dark days.

We've come through the tunnel and out into the light again, it seems. Not that there aren't shadows that loom from time to time, but here's what I've learned, following God at a hen's pace, in the last ten years:

Each day is a gift. Even if it's another day filled with worry and pain, it's another day to bring it all to the Lord, and to take small steps in the right direction in the tasks He's given me, and in the lives of those I influence.

As I've petitioned the Lord for situations that were completely out of my control, He's given me things I CAN do. He's reminded me to appreciate His goodness. He's told me not to strive, to worry, to be anxious--and to trust Him. He's given me responsibilities that give me joy and distract from the pain. He's taught me that joy is not about circumstances, it's a choice--and it's usually found in the small things.

The Scriptures say that he who is faithful with little will be entrusted with great things. By God's grace, I've been able to make small daily choices--one step at a time--that have brought me on a journey to to better places than I could have imagined ten years ago! I won't say it was all forward progress--like the hen, I'd backtrack and circle around, with the same besetting issues repeatedly tripping me up--but the cumulative direction, though at a hen's pace, was God-ward.

As a writer, I've learned that writing takes time. Choosing words is not something I do quickly, and I honestly can't say that I feel called to write--at least right now--in the same way that I feel called to do other things. I've always thought that I'd write a book someday, and maybe I still will...but it's not something I'm supposed to do now. But I would like to figure out a way to spend just a few minutes a day blogging. It would be great if I could get a few thoughts and memories recorded "at the pace of a hen," rather than in great waterfalls of words, few and far between.

Maybe that lesson will be learned in my next decade of blogging!

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Books Read in 2015

I'm a bit late for my usual end-of-year post reviewing the books I read in the past year! I won't review them all, especially because so many were by the same authors. As usual, about half were audiobooks, and I read precious few non-fiction books again, I see. My excuse this year is that I read so many nonfiction articles online!

This year I did not keep track of the movies I watched, so no post on that. Sorry, folks.


The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Thirteen for Dinner
The Big Four
Death in the Clouds
Endless Night
Dumb Witness
The Secret Adversary
After the Funeral
Dead Man's Mirror
(Agatha Christie, read by Hugh Fraser)

Agatha Christie's novels are my go-to audiobooks. My library has 3 shelves of them, and I still haven't listened to them all! I love the British reader who reads most of them. Her plots are ingenious and satisfying; her characters are intriguing and so well-personified. You'd think she'd start to repeat characters, but Dame Christie really was an amazing writer.

Love Among the Chickens (P.G. Wodehouse) 

Nothing beats Jeeves and Wooster, but this novelette was really enjoyable and hilarious.

The Miracle at Speedy Motors
The Double Comfort Safari Club (Alexander McCall Smith)

More from the gently humorous series The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency, set in Botswana.

Pontoon:  A Novel of Lake Woebegon (Garrison Keillor)
This novel surprised me with a sharper, darker and cruder edge than Keillor's usual folksy, feel-good stories of life in a fictional Minnesota small town. This one is NOT family fare.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (J.K. Rowling, read by Jim Dale)

That's right, all but the last one! It will fall into 2016. 

I have to say that I have enjoyed these on audiobook WAY more than reading them to myself--and I loved reading them as they came out! Maybe it's because I'm finally getting the whole story at once, instead of reading them with months and years in between, but I think it's also because Jim Dale is an incredible reader. He has a different voice for each of the hundreds of characters he eloquently portrays in these award-winning performances.


The Friendly Shakespeare:  A Thoroughly Painless Guide to the Best of the Bard (Norrie Epstein)

I've been teaching Shakespeare to teens, I assistant-directed a summer Shakespeare production and I ended up performing in it as well; I had to brush up on my knowledge! This resource was a great refresher on everything I learned in my college Shakespeare class. It was also most amusing and entertaining. I highly recommend! My only complaint is she needs to update her review of Shakespearean films; so many good ones were made after she published this book in 1994.

The Trip to Jerusalem
The Silent Woman
The Merry Devils
The Mad Courtesan
The Roaring Boy
The Laughing Hangman
The Wanton Angel
The Bawdy Basket
The Vagabond Clown
The Counterfeit Crank
The Malevolent Comedy (Edward Marston)

These mysteries are set in the days of Elizabethan theater, in the midst of a troupe very much like the one William Shakespeare wrote for. The detective, Nicholas Bracewell, is the bookholder--something like a stage manager/director, who was the only person to have a complete copy of "the book" or script. We also meet the leading man, the clown, the talented young boy who plays the leading lady's parts, and many other characters secondarily related to the troupe. These mysteries were fun to read and sketch a historically accurate picture. Pre-read before giving to your Shakespeare student though--although there is nothing really gratuitous, these Elizabethans are a lusty group.

The Shakespeare Stealer (Gary Blackwood)

This novel is safe for any age student, and it also gives a good picture of life in an Elizabethan acting troupe. 

A Challenge for the Actor (Uta Hagen)
The Power of the Actor (Ivana Chubbuck)

An acquaintance who is an acting coach recommended these two books on her website, so I read them, since I teach acting to kids. These were definitely geared to adult thinking and did not seem easily applicable to what I do, but I was glad to learn from them.

This Thing of Ours: How Faith Saved My Mafia Marriage (Cammy Franzese)

I was picking out books at the library that might be helpful for B16 with a report he was writing on the Chicago mob, when this title caught my eye. It was fascinating! What an encouragement to see what a huge difference this wife's faith made in a marriage tested by imprisonment and other extreme circumstances. Her mother's faith was a testimony as well.

Prayer (O. Hallesby)

What a find among Father Rooster's many worthwhile books! The cover claimed it was a classic, though I'd never heard of it, but now I believe it. This gentle Norwegian pastor explains so simply how to pray--continually, and without striving. Here's a quote:

To pray is to open the door unto Jesus and admit Him into your distress. Your helplessness is the very thing which opens wide the door unto Him and gives Him access to all your needs.

Here are more. Who knew?

Tuck (Stephen Lawhead)

These are re-imaginings of the Robin Hood legends, set in Wales. We've owned these forever, but I think Father Rooster and I OD'd on Stephen Lawhead back in the day, with his wonderful 6-volume Pendragon series and then some less memorable books after that. His books are set in the post-pagan times of the druids as they were converted to Christianity, so Lawhead's historic world includes beautiful Celtic Christian prayers, songs, mysticism and the occasional miracle. 

Now, if you'd like to read more book lists and reviews, check out the blog Semicolon and her round-up of year-end book posts!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

And That Was My Fall

It's been awhile, hasn't it? I've been pondering whether to keep my little blog going!

One would think that with no kids being homeschooled this fall, I would have had unprecedented amounts of time on my hand, but one would be wrong. Instead, I was unprecedentedly busy, riding a steep learning curve, doing something I had never done before--directing 59 kids in a musical! I had all kinds of new responsibilities to figure out, and in addition, before I was asked to direct, I had already agreed to teach two classes as well (Shakespeare and Dramatic Voice & Diction). Everything--classes, rehearsals, performances--was in Milwaukee, too, an hour away from home. So I was really putting in the hours, 3 days a week commuting and putting in time with the kids, plus prep time at home!

And loving every minute, I might add. 

I might also add that last year, as I kept sensing the Lord nudging me to wrap up my homeschooling days, I heard him say, several times, that He had other things for me to do. At the time, I hoped that one of those things might be directing, but I suspected it was probably my Bible study, relationships with neighbors, and service at Light of Christ, including hosting and co-leading the youth group. I was stunned to be offered the head director job, when I wasn't sure I would even get the chance to be an assistant director again. 

As I've been busy with all these things this fall, but especially with directing, I had to ask the Lord if it really was okay with him that I was spending so much time on a musical theater production. Were there other things He wanted me to do, that I was neglecting? His answer was clear: "I am the one who opened the doors for you! Yes, I want you to walk through them." 

So it was a joyful fall for me. So much to learn, and what fun to learn it! I will write a post about our production (probably in January!), but it's been non-stop since it ended. After our last performance and Strike Party, we hosted Thanksgiving 4 days later...then we had the week of multiple school choir concerts, plus auditions for Fiddler on the Roof (B16, B10 and Chicklet are all in it, but I'm not involved, and it's here in Kenosha, not Milwaukee)... then my parents visited us, to attend Ye Olde Christmasse Feaste with the Madrigal Singers, the elite singing group that B16 is part of...before that, I shopped for them, and we decorated for Christmas...and now I am Christmas shopping, menu planning, and grocery shopping right up till Christmas Eve, I'm afraid!

This weekend, I take my Shakespeare class to Milwaukee to see All's Well That Ends Well...we have a youth group Christmas party and caroling...we are rehearsing for a short Christmas pageant that will be on Christmas Eve...and on Tuesday, we have a funeral, our first ever at Light of Christ. A sad loss to cancer, but an indomitable spirit, eager to be with Jesus, whose only earthly concern was for others who do not yet know Him. She left a list of names for Father Rooster and others from our church to follow up with, and she messaged them all that her dying wish was for them to attend our Christmas Eve service, so it will be interesting to see how God uses that!

But I thought I would take twenty minutes and see what I could write here! I spent twice that much time, but I think that may become one of my New Year's disciplines--to try to write short posts, more frequently. We'll see how it goes!